Growing Stronger in Faith and the Service of Hashem
In the Shacharit prayer of Shabbat we say, “Moses rejoiced in the gift of his portion, for You called him a faithful servant.” On Friday, the eve of Shabbat, my father always helped out at home, and he would say in a loud voice: Yismach Moshe be’matnat chelko (“Moses rejoiced in the gift of his portion”). I asked my father if he was saying this because his own name was Moshe. He told me that this wasn’t the reason why, but that the meaning of these words had to be understood. My father told me this when I was young, and I did not realize just how profound it was, although today I understand the meaning of “Moses rejoiced in the gift of his portion.” What was the gift that Moses received from G-d? The answer follows immediately afterwards: “You called him a faithful servant.” This is the gift that Moses rejoiced in – being called a faithful servant of Hashem.
We must realize that it is not only Torah study which leads a person to become G-d’s servant. Simply put, it takes a real effort to become G-d’s servant. What kind of “service” does this consist of? It consists of perfecting one’s character traits and concentrating in prayer. Furthermore, a servant of G-d is the happiest of men. I once saw someone who was smiling as he prayed, although I didn’t know why. I later asked him why he had been smiling, and he told me that it was the first time in his life that he sensed the concept of “the holy King.” Someone who prays with so much effort and reflects upon the words he recites is a servant of Hashem.
It seems surprising that someone who prays in this way, reflecting upon the meaning of his words, is considered to be G-d’s servant, since he is asking Him for so many things. How can this be? In general, a servant does not ask his master for things, but instead provides them. Therefore how can servants of G-d ask for so many things as they pray? The answer is that man does not ask Hashem for help with his own things. Instead he asks for help with regards to sustenance, understanding, holiness, and the like in order to serve Hashem with perfection. Hence we ask Him: Grant us wisdom, sustenance…in order to serve You with a perfect heart, for our desire is to serve You to the best of our abilities.
Moses also felt that it was a gift that G-d considered him to be His servant. In fact even more is said with regards to Moses: Not only was he a servant, but “a faithful servant,” something that carries a whole other meaning. There is a tremendous difference between a faithful servant and an unfaithful servant. A person can have a servant who serves him eagerly, and yet steals from him at the same time. Such a servant is not faithful, and his service is not at all ethical. Thus with regards to G-d, there can be faithful and unfaithful servants.
I once had a very bad experience when I was young boy. It was the Shabbat before Tisha B’Av, and I was in synagogue. There I saw a collection box for tzeddakah, and an evil thought crossed my mind – the thought of taking it. Happily, the shamash arrived and saved me from this, but I remember it to this day. The evil inclination is so powerful that it can push a seven-year-old boy to take a tzeddakah box on Shabbat. A person must therefore really sense that he is serving Hashem, and even in such situations he must realize that we are faithful servants, meaning that we do not take things that do not belong to us.
Young unmarried yeshiva students should realize that they can reach this level while they are in yeshiva. This is because the service of Hashem is something that we must acquire through much work, and it is impossible to attain it without effort. Yeshiva days are a time when it is possible to reach this level. I remember that when I was in yeshiva, I always wanted to reach an age at which I could take classes given by Rabbi Chaim Lopian Zatzal, and thank G-d I did. If a person really yearns for something, he can attain it.
Yeshiva students must realize that during this time in their lives, they should elevate themselves and become faithful servants of Hashem. They must especially focus on perfecting their character traits and relationship with others. It is also important for them to be neat and organized, and to respect themselves insofar as being the sons of the King. A person who grows in terms of his relationships with others will experience happiness throughout his life, for by doing so he will also learn to respect and appreciate his wife. This will lead to love and friendship between husband and wife, and the Shechinah will reside among them.
I once saw a young man looking at himself in a mirror. He was dusting himself off and carefully examining his hair and overall appearance. I approached and asked him what this all meant. He said that he was about to conclude a shidduch, and he wanted to look appropriate. When I thanked him, he immediately asked me: “When you had a shidduch, didn’t you do the same thing?” I told him that I did not, but I still thanked him for having taught me just to what point we must look good before Hashem. In fact if a person goes to such lengths in order to look good for a woman, with whom he will live for just a few decades – although his soul exists for eternity – then how much more should we adorn our deeds and habits in order to please Hashem, the eternal G-d?
The Sages teach, “He overturned the mountain on them like a barrel,” and it is written: “The people saw and trembled and stood from afar” (Exodus 20:15). Now if Hashem overturned the mountain on the Children of Israel like a barrel, it means that they were standing beneath the mountain. However the verse states that they stood at a distance! Exactly where were the Children of Israel standing? The fear of Heaven comes in two forms: That which results from misfortune, and that which results from personal effort. I once met a person in Paris who was very ill, and on his face it was clear that his life was nearing an end. As his dying day approached, he changed his ways and began to put on tefillin and do other things, for he possessed a fear of Heaven that resulted from misfortune. This is one way of attaining the fear of Heaven, but there is another way, one that results from personal effort. Thus the verse states, “What does the L-RD your G-d ask of you? Only to fear the L-RD your G-d” (Deuteronomy 10:12). Here the Gemara asks, “Is the fear of Heaven such a minor thing?” (Berachot 33b). It is a major thing! Therefore how can the verse say, “Only to fear the L-RD your G-d”? Actually, it was a minor thing for Moses, since he was Hashem’s servant through and through. This fact is concretely expressed in a statement by the Ba’al HaTurim: “The name Moshe is formed by the same letters as Hashem.” Moses served Hashem with all his strength, to the point of ascending to Heaven in order to bring down the Torah. Hence the letters of his name are those of Hashem, and Moses’ fear of Heaven stemmed from the power of his own service of Hashem.
Let us now explain this in a different way: At first the Holy One, blessed be He, overturned the mountain on the Children of Israel like a barrel so they could possess the fear of Heaven that results from external factors, meaning that it was forced upon them. Later on, however, they stood at a distance and attained the fear of Heaven by themselves, by their own realization of the Creator’s existence. This is a higher form of the fear of Heaven. Thus both things were true: At first the Children of Israel were coerced, and later on they themselves put an effort into acquiring the fear of Heaven.
We know the story of the gaon Rabbi Yitzchak Blazer Zatzal, who once saw one of his students standing by a window. When he asked him why he was standing there, the student replied: “To get some fresh air.” Rabbi Yitzchak said to him, “Perhaps you are a thief?” Shaken by what he had just heard, the student replied that he was not a thief, but was simply standing there for some air. Rabbi Yitzchak told him that by standing in front of a window, he was stealing the air of others who were inside, for he was blocking the air that would have otherwise reached them. From here we learn just to what degree we must consider the needs of others. This is called the fear of Heaven, and it requires that a person be sensitive to what others are feeling. It requires that a person serve Hashem in truth by concentrating in prayer, especially without harming others.
Rav Shach Zatzal said that the fear of the day of judgment is not about being judged per se, but about standing before Hashem. Simply being summoned in judgment awakens fear in man, who grows fearful even if he is righteous, for “there is no righteous man on earth who does good and never sins” (Ecclesiastes 7:20). Only a perfect servant of Hashem has nothing to fear.
The Gemara recounts the story of Rabban Yochanan ben Zakai, whose son became ill. He prayed for him, but his prayer went unanswered. When his disciple Rabbi Chanina ben Dosa prayed for him, however, his prayer was answered. The wife of Rabban Yochanan asked him if his disciple was greater than him, since his prayer went unanswered while Rabbi Chanina ben Dosa’s prayer did not. He said that Rabbi Chanina ben Dosa was like a servant before the king, who comes and goes as he pleases. This is astonishing: Rabbi Chanina ben Dosa could come before Hashem whenever he pleased because he was like a servant (since servants can always come before the king to inquire of his needs), but Rabban Yochanan could not do the same because he was like a nobleman, and noblemen only appear before the king at fixed times.
Rabban Yochanan said that Rabbi Chanina ben Dosa was like a servant, being able to come before the king at any time. He truly was like a servant, for he never came to ask for himself, since he completely ignored his own desires. Hence he was considered to be Hashem’s servant. When Rabbi Chanina ben Dosa was in need of sustenance, he prayed to Hashem and a golden table leg immediately appeared for him. He then had a dream in which he was eating upon a table that was lacking one leg. From this he understood that because of the table leg he had received, his table in the World to Come would be lacking a leg. This requires an explanation, for does it mean that a person is forbidden to ask G-d for his sustenance? If someone asks for something and receives it, does it mean that it will be deducted from his reward in the World to Come? The answer is that Rabbi Chanina ben Dosa was a complete servant of Hashem. Now as we know, what a servant acquires belongs to his master. Hence everything he possessed really belonged to Hashem. Yet in this instance he asked for something for himself, and it would not belong to his master. He would therefore be lacking it in the World to Come. At his level, Rabbi Chanina ben Dosa could not even ask for his sustenance, since he was truly a servant of Hashem.
These are extremely profound concepts, and we must all aspire to be a “faithful servant” of the Holy One, blessed be He. Not only should a person become a servant, but a faithful servant. How does one become a faithful servant of Hashem? It is only by annulling his own desires before Hashem’s will.
• In the Shacharit prayer of Shabbat we say, “Moses rejoiced in the gift of his portion, for You called him a faithful servant.” What was this gift? It is mentioned immediately afterwards: “You called him a faithful servant” – that was his gift.
• How is it possible to ask for so many things in prayer, since prayer is our way of serving Hashem? After all, a servant does not ask his master for things. We, however, are asking Hashem for sustenance, knowledge, and other things in order to serve Him wholeheartedly. We are not asking for ourselves.
• The lesson to draw from here is that just as a person adorns his body, he must also adorn his soul.
• There is a fear of Heaven that comes through misfortune, and a fear of Heaven that comes through one’s efforts in serving G-d.
• At first the Holy One, blessed be He, forced the Children of Israel to receive the Torah, which is like acquiring the fear of Heaven through misfortune. The Children of Israel later accepted the Torah voluntarily, which is like acquiring the fear of Heaven through personal effort.
• The fear of the day of judgment is not about being judged per se, but from the very fact of standing before Hashem.
• Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakai’s prayer was not accepted, but the prayer of his disciple Rabbi Chanina ben Dosa was. This is because Rabbi Chanina ben Dosa was like a servant who comes and goes before the king as he pleases.
• Rabbi Chanina ben Dosa was completely devoted to serving Hashem, so much so that when he asked for his own sustenance, Heaven showed him a golden table that was lacking a leg, since he had received a golden table leg from Heaven.